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‘Legal gaps impeding effective action against gender-based violence, child marriages in Sindh’

By our correspondents
September 15, 2017

Recently, a few cases have been filed under the Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, and the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013. However, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, has been least applied so far; only one domestic violence trial is reportedly going on in Sindh though women are frequently subjected to domestic violence in the province. 

This is the crux of a study titled ‘Situation Analysis on Implementation of Pro-women Laws in Sindh”, whose findings were shared in an event organised on Thursday by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) under a project called “Policy Advocacy and Research to Strengthen Implementation of Pro-Women Legislation and GBV Response Services in Sindh”. 

The project was supported by the Australian government and Australian Aid in collaboration with Trocaire. The event was attended by Syeda Shehla Raza, deputy speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Shamim Mumtaz, the adviser to chief minister on social welfare, Mudassir Iqbal, secretary of the Women Development Department, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, secretary of law and parliamentary affairs, Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, Anis Haroon, member of Sindh National Commission on the Status of Women, former senator Javed Jabbar, and Saleem Malik, chief executive of SPO,  and the chairperson of SPO’s Board of Directors.

Other legislatures, representatives of the Sindh home, police, health and human rights departments, and civil society members actively participated.   The study has been conducted to identify the implementation gaps (de facto and de jure) in the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act, 2015, and Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011, commonly known as Anti-women Practices Act.

According to the findings, there are inherent legal loopholes in all aforementioned four laws and in their rules of business. These legal gaps have been impeding the effective utilisation of the laws at the hands of the masses, women and duty-bearers. The study reveals that implementation structures and mechanisms provided by these laws have not completely been put in place so far. 

It has also been found that the formal coordination mechanisms among departments, e.g. the Social Welfare Department, the Women Development Department and the police, have not been formed through developing standard operating procedures or protocols or by others means as envisaged by the relevant laws. 

The following are few de facto gaps which need to be addressed for holistic implementation and to safeguard women. The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 needs to be amended to address the gaps and lacunas affecting the implementation of the law such invalidation (dissolution) of child marriages and penalisation of consummation under 16 years of age in line with Section 375 of the PPC. Also, Section 10 (5) of Rules of the act needs to be revised and the word ‘husband’ be deleted.

An amendment needs to be made in Section 5 of the Domestic Violence Act Prevention &Protection) Act 2013 to make offences cognizable, warrantable, bailable in Schedule II of the CrPC. Also, an amendment needs to be made to make it clear as to who will first take cognizance of the offences, either the relevant protection officer of the Women Development Department or the police station.

There is also a need to make changes in the Anti-Women Practices Act 2011 to make offences covered by the law cognizable under Schedule II of the CrPC to decide on invalidation (dissolution) of forced marriages, and to apply the law to persons who take women or girls in customary practices.